Moral Character Matters

Character, moral character, leadership qualities, character definition, Frank Sonnenberg

Some folks have a split personality . . . on the one hand, they believe that being unscrupulous leads to success, but on the other hand, they also recognize that a solid reputation provides ancillary benefits. So they’re ruthless most of the time and rely on a few PR maneuvers to promote their decency. In their eyes, moral character doesn’t contribute directly to success –– for them, strong moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act.

The fact is, there’s a direct correlation between moral character and success. We lose something very important when character is treated as an afterthought.

Character, character definition,  moral character, good people finish first,  Do the right thing

Character Matters

The Case for Strong Moral Character

Achieve peace of mind. People with character sleep well at night. They take great pride in knowing that their intentions and actions are honorable. People with character also stay true to their beliefs, do right by others, and always take the high ground. (So refreshing.)

Strengthen trust. People with character enjoy meaningful relationships based on openness, honesty, and mutual respect. When you have good moral character, people know that your behavior is reliable, your heart is in the right place, and your word is good as gold.

Build a solid reputation. People with character command a rock-solid reputation. This helps them attract exciting opportunities “like a magnet.”

Reduce anxiety. People with character carry less baggage. They’re comfortable within their own skin, and they accept responsibility for their actions. They never have to play games, waste precious time keeping their stories straight, or invent excuses to cover their behind.

Increase leadership effectiveness. Leaders with character are highly effective. They have no need to pull rank or resort to command and control to get results. Instead, they’re effective because they’re knowledgeable, admired, trusted, and respected. This helps them secure buy-in automatically, without requiring egregious rules or strong oversight designed to force compliance.

Build confidence. People with character don’t worry about embarrassment if their actions are publicly disclosed. This alleviates the need for damage control or the fear of potential disgrace as a result of indiscretions.

Become a positive role model. People with character set the standard for excellence. They live their life as an open book, teaching others important life lessons through their words and their deeds.

Live a purpose-driven life. People with character live a life they can be proud of. They’re driven to make a difference and to do right by others rather than trying to impress others with extravagance. (Sounds like a wonderful legacy to me.)

Build a strong business. Doing the right thing is good business. Everything else being equal, talented people would rather work for –– and customers would rather buy from –– companies that do right by their people, customers, and communities. While unprincipled business tactics may provide short-term results, it’s NOT a long-term strategy.

Character Matters. It’s That Simple

Some people may say, “This stuff is naïve and wishful thinking . . . the reality is that business is ruthless and most people only care about themselves.” These folks feel the only way to get employees to “do the right thing” is to coerce them.

I believe that’s hogwash. When people are forced to “do the right thing,” they’ll try hard to fight and resist the effort. A better strategy is to prove that a strong character is in everyone’s best interest –– and it is.

Immoral behavior is not the easy road to success. In fact:

  • People without character hurt themselves every day by losing the trust of their colleagues and damaging their reputations;
  • Leaders without character squander the confidence of their constituents and lose the respect of their peers;
  • Businesses without character forfeit once-loyal customers and watch their most valued employees head for the door.

Most importantly, every day that you display weak character, you’re letting yourself down. You must answer to your conscience every minute of every day. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!”

Strong Character Is Like a Boomerang

If most people know the difference between right and wrong, why do some shortchange themselves by selling their soul?

They must think, “I’m under pressure to perform,” “I don’t want to lose face,” and “I have an image to maintain.” They reason, “The rewards are worth it,” “It’ll only be this time,” and “No one will ever find out.” Sadly, . . . they probably say, “Everybody does it” or “I’ve gotten away with it before. And, I bet I can again.” But, before you know it, this behavior becomes habit.

Well, if you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, don’t blame the mirror. It’s never too late to change.

It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.

When you have strong moral character, you’ll be judged by who you are rather than who you pretend to be; you’ll be a trusted friend rather than suspected as a foe; you’ll learn from your mistakes rather than hiding them in fear; you’ll serve as an outstanding role model for your admirers rather than leading them down a dead-end path; you’ll look forward to the future rather than defending your past; and your reputation will do you proud rather than reveal your flaws.

Although you may not be able to quantify the benefits of being a good person, there’s great truth in the saying, “good people finish first.” Strong moral character is like a boomerang that causes good things to find their way back to you –– but it takes effort. Jim Rohn, the business philosopher, said, “Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change, like your fingerprints. It’s something you weren’t born with and must take responsibility for forming.” So promise yourself to be true to yourself and do what’s right, even when nobody is looking –– Character matters.

How Do You Feel About Character?

Additional Reading:
Reputation: You Can’t Run from Your Shadow
Trust Me … Trust Me Not
Leadership Scorecard
Ethics as Usual
Managing with a Conscience

If you like this article, subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss a single post. Get future posts by RSS feed, email or Facebook. It’s FREE. Click your favorite option (top right).


  1. W.C. Camp says

    Great article and hopefully a wake-up call for the few ‘non-believers’ that seem to get all the attention. W.C.C.

  2. Barbara Brooks Kimmel says

    Frank- yesterday I told my kids to try to do one thing every day that shows their moral character. Perhaps if parents began to share your message with their kids (and role model it), we would start to see a reversal in the declining levels of trust around the globe. Everyone can do their part. It’s not that hard.


    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Barbara

      If parents served as exemplary role models and emphasized the importance of character with their kids it would make a difference. I hope everyone heeds your call and begins today.

      Thanks for sharing.



  3. Deborah Mills-Scofield says

    Frank – another great article. I’ve been thinking about a few ‘leaders’ I know who act abhorrently at work but ‘supposedly’ are just great people outside – what I hear from friends etc. I just wonder if people can really bifurcate themselves that much – be jerks in the workplace and great outside – somehow I think it has to come through (one way or the other). Perhaps it’s the cynic in me but if you’re not showing moral values and character at work, I have a hard time you do elsewhere – what are your thoughts and experiences?

    • frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Deb

      Some people believe they have to be ruthless to succeed in business. The truth is, people would rather work for and do business with people with character. It’s important to note this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be competitive, but good people DO finish first.

      Have an awesome day!



  4. Cindy says

    Hi Frank,
    Great post- and maybe I am thinking a little different here due to some other material that I have been reading lately so here is my spin:
    If we look at studies done by nurses who took time to interview people who were dying and I am only giving one example, Bonnie Ware, and her book: “The Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”, she quotes, “the most common is not having lived the life true to themselves- instead they had lived the life other people expected them to-
    Now, I am not suggesting that other people want you to forfeit moral character or integrity, infact , I think probably the opposite; however, THIS juncture possibly the place where compromise is exercised and when exercised enough – simply leads to habit- right ?
    “Lose everything rather than lose your integrity, and when everything is gone – still hold fast a clear conscience as the rarest jewel that can adorn the bosom of a mortal”-
    (Taken from “the jaws of death”- C.H.Spurgeon-revised & updated by Allistair Begg, (c)2003, & used by “truth for Life”with written permission).
    Thanks Frank- for the reminder of exercising good habits, once again- especially before it is too late:)


    • frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Cindy

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don’t feel that people should have high moral character because it is expected. Rather, they should do it for themselves; either because their conscience dictates it or because they feel it’ll lead to success. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post. Stay tuned :-)

      Have an awesome day!



  5. Mark Hill says

    Great thought provoking words here Frank! You stir up something within that I am very curious about. You mention “The fact is, there’s a direct correlation between moral character and success”. I agree with this. Yes, there are benefits that proceed forth from moral character as in a good tree will produce good fruit. Might it be a problem though, when we suggest that a reason to be of good character is because it will reap personal benefits? In other words, the goal ends up being our success and the way to get there is being of good character rather than the goal is to be of good moral character period without and personal gain attachments. Do we teach and encourage good character because we will get rewarded for it or do we teach and encourage good character because it is just simply the right way to live? I know when raising children we need to use reward or consequence in nurturing good behavior but as we humans mature might we transcend beyond this type of motivation into being moral for moral sake? Your thoughts?

    • frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Mark

      You make an excellent point. Some people believe that good moral character is in and of itself a reward. For them, being a good person and doing the right thing IS the reward. There are other folks, however, who believe that being a good person is counterproductive –– they believe being ruthless leads to success. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My hope is that after folks come to this realization themselves (that being a good person provides satisfaction as well as success) they’ll recognize that the real prize is living a good life.

      If kids learn these lessons at an early age there won’t be any need to unlearn bad habits.

      Thanks for your thoughts and for advancing the conversation.



  6. Samantha says

    In my personal experience, most people who talk about character, are generally referring to everyone else but them. (I don’t mean to imply anything towards you because I don’t know you! : )

    Show me a perfect person, and I’ll say they have perfect character.

    Show me someone who SAYS they believe in honesty who actually bothers to tell the truth 100% of the time?

    Most people I’ve encountered in life believe in the IDEA of things like truth and justice yet don’t spend much time actually telling the truth or being just.

    It is rare in the world…indeed.

  7. Samantha says

    As an afterthought…character really SHOULD matter, but my point is…. DOES IT? REALLY?

    I haven’t yet seen it in my lifetime….

    • frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Samantha

      I’ve been blessed. I’ve had teachers who inspired me, bosses who served as wonderful mentors, and friends who have earned my trust. The people I am thinking of have exceptional character and continue to serve as role models today. I’m not saying that anyone is perfect, but at least these folks try (and in my eyes, have succeeded.) I’m so grateful that we’ve crossed paths. They help to make me a better person.



  8. Lucy DelSarto says

    As a former professional athlete and coach for over three decades, I can tell you this…character does matter and sports reveal it.

    The actions a person takes during a tight competition reveals what they will do in their life. I’ve seen both sides of this and would never do business with the one who has to win at all costs (cheating is acceptable in their mind and that is not a person I care to do business with, play with or even associate with).

    Thanks for writing a wonderful article. I’ll be paying it forward!

    • frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Lucy

      You’re spot on… playing sports builds character. As you say, “The actions a person takes during a tight competition reveals what they will do in their life.” I believe that kids can learn so much about life through sports. In fact I feel so strongly about this issue that I dedicated a post to the 25 lessons that parents and coaches can provide. The post is entitled, “My Kid the Superstar.”

      Have a wonderful day!



  9. Cindy says

    Good point -Lucy…
    I think the whole world saw this example yesterday in the FIFA World Cup Soccer with a 3rd time offender for “biting”! Yes – maybe we should add “self-control” into the whole character column….ouch!


  10. Deelight says

    Great article, Frank. You mentioned John Rohn…did you mean Jim? Been a fan of his insightful leadership philosophy for years.

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      My mistake. Thanks so much for bringing the error to my attention. The change has been made. Thank you!


  11. Michael Lapointe says

    I’ve had supervisors who tried to teach me disingenuous management/leadership tricks. But I never felt comfortable with them. So I was ostracized by my management group. I was last to learn anything and rarely included on critical decisions. There was no real effort from my immediate supervisor to help me (a blessing in disguise). This was a toxic work environment. Any good leaders with moral character were given a severance package as quick as possible. Leading with moral character was a dangerous thing to do but I continued. Often I felt attacked by my positive efforts and they made a concerted efforts to demoralize me. These are tactics by leaders that lack integrity and morality. Often I a leader who says they are moral are accused of being self righteous or sanctimonious like being moral is a shameful pursuit. The FEAR of not being part of the crowd will make some people lower their moral standards. By the way, my supervisor gave me a “severance package” and demoted herself into my old position to save herself from being axed as a manager. Was that moral? Hmmm … to some.

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Michael

      This situation says a lot about your company and your manager, but most of all it says a lot about you.

      It’s not easy to stand up to a crowd… especially when they hold all the cards. At the end of the day you’ll be able to hold your head up high and know that you lived your life with honor. That has success written all over it. Thank you for being a stand up guy. I applaud your character.

      I’m glad you took the time to write.



  12. David McCuistion says

    Moral Character is the foundation of a person. It reflects one’s authenticity, integrity and personal word. Without it, one cannot be trusted, relied upon nor called upon when the challenge needs solid resolutions.

    Thanks for the article. I saved it for future reference and use – always with proper citation. Thank you.

  13. John Christianson says

    Frank: I really enjoyed reading your post. A couple things came to mind: when you play golf with a business leader you find out quite a bit about their character….and not always what you expect. Second, I’m reminded of the concept that like energy attracts like energy. In other words, a negative and self-centered leader will in many instances attract people and circumstances of lesser moral character. I’d prefer the alternative! Thanks again. John

    • says

      Great point, John.

      Negative (or unethical) leaders always seem to attract like people. The same can be said for people with strong moral character. As Carlos Santana said, “Your mind is a magnet. You don’t attract what you need or what you want; you attract who you are.”

      Have an awesome day!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *